In many ways, 2021 was a breakout year for Canadian soccer.
The women’s team struck gold at the Tokyo Olympics, while the men’s side put the rest of CONCACAF on notice during the World Cup qualifiers.
Internationally, this past year gave us a number of surprises, including Italy being crowned European champions, and Chelsea winning its second UEFA Champions League title.
1. Canada advances to the round of 16 at the World Cup
The Canadian men’s team’s only previous World Cup appearance came in 1986 in Mexico, when it bowed out in the group stage after suffering three consecutive shutout losses. Ever since, Canada hasn’t come close to qualifying for the biggest sporting event on the planet. That will change next year, as Canada will punch its ticket for the 2022 World Cup.
2. Toronto lands an NWSL expansion franchise
The National Women’s Soccer League is experiencing a tremendous growth period at the moment. Racing Louisville made its debut as the NWSL’s 10th club in 2021, and the league is set to add two more teams next year when Los Angeles and San Diego will begin play.
3. Croatia wins the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar
After finishing third at the 1998 World Cup in France, Croatia went through a dry spell as it made group stage exits in its next three tournament appearances, and didn’t even qualify in 2010.
But the Croatians reasserted themselves at the 2018 World Cup in Russia by finishing runners-up to France, and followed that up with a solid round-of-16 showing at Euro 2020 when it lost a heartbreaker to Spain in extra time.
4. Jonathan David makes a transfer move to FC Barcelona
At 21 years old, Jonathan David has the world at his feet. The product of Ottawa has become one of the hottest young prospects in the world ever since his transfer move from Belgian club Gent to French side Lille OSC in the summer of 2020.
5. Ajax wins the UEFA Champions League
Bayern Munich and Liverpool were among the three teams that went a perfect 6-0 in the group stage of the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering their stature as two of the biggest clubs in the world.
But would it surprise you to learn that the third team to sport a perfect record in the group stage was Ajax? The modest Dutch club, which won the last of its four Champions League titles in 1995, was positively sensational in the group stage, winning all six of its games by a combined 20-5 score line.
Ajax also boasts the top scorer in this season’s tournament, as previously unheralded Ivory Coast striker Sébastien Haller exploded for 10 goals and became only the second player in Champions League history (Cristiano Ronaldo was the other) to score in all six matches of a single group stage.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer.